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Anatomy of a Codependent Person

Updated on June 2, 2014

In order to understand the problems of being a codependent (CD) person, it’s helpful to learn more about the anatomy, or makeup, of these individuals. What features are typical of a CD?

CDs use their focus on the other party (OP) – which may be a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, or even a colleague - to avoid dealing with one or more personal issues. The issue might be chronic physical or mental illness, emotional suffering (unhappiness), addiction, or a combination of two or more of these. If the CD is even aware of this fact, she often dismisses her own issue because she wants to solve the “bigger problem” – which means fixing the OP – first. The OP’s problem may fall into the same category as the CD’s – both parties suffer from untreated mental illness or chronic drug addiction, for example – or it may fall into a different category entirely. Regardless, the CD seeks out an OP whose problem is, in the CD’s view, more severe than hers (the OP may or may not agree). Conveniently, when the OP refuses to confront his problem, the CD is off the hook indefinitely, since his crisis must be solved before she deals with her own. Therefore, a CD who is highly averse to confronting her own issue selects an individual who is struggling with a proportionately severe problem, making the likelihood of it ever being resolved negligible. Thus the CD is even more unlikely to ever have the opportunity to work on herself.

CDs typically view themselves as unselfish helpmates, even martyrs, when in fact they are controlling and nagging. A relationship can never be healthier than its sickest member, but the CD egotistically believes that she can force the OP to confront and resolve his issues, thus “saving” the relationship. She believes that by saying, doing, or being the right thing, she will rescue the OP, make him into a new and improved version of himself, and “win” a healthy, loving relationship as the prize for all of her hard work.

Much as they might want to, people don't have bottomless pits of supportive energy to offer another person when they aren't getting anything back.
Much as they might want to, people don't have bottomless pits of supportive energy to offer another person when they aren't getting anything back.

CDs are not bad people. They are typically good, caring people taken to such an extreme that they are slowly being psychically excavated by the neediness of the OP. But CDs run a tremendous risk of becoming someone they, and possibly others, come to hate. When their outer worlds collapse, CDs have no resources left for themselves, because they’ve been delivering them freely and carelessly, from what feels like a bottomless supply but isn’t, to the OP, with no return on their investment whatsoever. The CD supports, but rarely or never feels supported. The CD creates a stable environment for the OP, but rarely or never feels secure. The CD arranges events (which the OP often fails to attend) in the OP’s life, but skips occasions that are important to her, often as some sort of “sacrifice” to the OP.

As a consequence of all this giving and not-receiving, the CD often becomes hostile and bitter as time passes. The CD has made endless concessions and offerings to the OP, and nothing has come of it. The OP continues to live as he always has, and the relationship remains unhealthy and unsatisfying to the CD. In the meantime, the CD’s problem(s), which have been ignored while she invested time and energy in “fixing” the OP, remain, or may even have become more complex and difficult to unravel. The more she invests in trying to fix the OP, the more brittle and desperate to succeed the CD becomes.

CDs can be male or female, old or young, and be highly intelligent or much less so, as can OPs. The CD phenomenon crosses ethnic boundaries and income levels. The one thing that all CDs have in common is that they had one or more parent or parent figure with issues similar to the OP’s and had the CD relationship modeled for them as they grew up (this may be true of the OP as well). However, the CD may not have been aware of the dysfunction; many families keep dark secrets, and some issues, such as gambling, might not be easily identifiable to a child.

The solution to codependence is typically 12-step meetings, reading codependence literature, therapy, or some combination of the above, with awareness of and vigilance against codependence becoming, unfortunately, a lifelong battle. However, the journey of recovery offers many benefits, most notably the opportunity to be responsible for one’s own life, and an opportunity for growth; in any case, the alternative of being locked into a lifetime of codependency is untenable for many individuals.


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very enlightening overview.

    • Rachaelle Lynn profile image

      Rachaelle Lynn 2 years ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Thank you for your comment, Darlene!

    • Rachaelle Lynn profile image

      Rachaelle Lynn 7 years ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Thanks mandingo; as a recovering CD, I would agree that we can be high-maintenance. I'm glad you have found a way to be comfortable within the circle of your family and friends!

    • profile image

      mandingo 7 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this hub and thought it was a good one! As I read, some people I know popped into my mind (past and present) fit right into your description. What I already knew about CD and the OP, you confirmed to me and I shake my head that CD seems universal, like many "mind malfunctions". My sister, actually two of my sisters, in different ways are CD along with friends, or ex-friends. "Drama" among those I must deal with I keep things light and try to keep my distance. I have cut ties with some people/friends in my past. I think of them as high maintenance. With all due respect to you and the others that have responded guys seem to have admitted to yourselves, your own inner truth, and are being so healthy minded that I think it is fantastic! However, I think you can relate to me that CD people are hard to be around. That is why I call them high maintenance. My sisters for example, I call them Alpha-females/he-shes. I step back from them during family gatherings because I have learned to realize that I refuse to get into a power struggle with them which always happened for years in the past. They have their own psychological problems, yet they acknowledge and try to explain and control their kids and husbands...really anyone in the family gathering. My one sister, the control freak, alpha-female telling her husband that he needs help because he is the one that is the control freak and she tells him how he should act so that he is not so demanding and critical of others. She says that she has been trying to help/teach him for years. He pretty much ignores her.

      What I find refresing is my very small group of 3 best friends. I can sit with any one of them and just simply be. We say what is on our mind, don't feel the need to lie, keep secrets for and with each other, and most importantly, give constructive critisism about our disagreements with each other. We hear each other and I personally think about what has been brought to my attention as a fault or flaw by my friend, and I acknowledge it and work on it to make myself better. They do the same and we always laugh and giggle at each others silliness. It is all in fun!

    • Rachaelle Lynn profile image

      Rachaelle Lynn 7 years ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, ptosis. I found 12-step meetings helpful and they are advocated by many codependence experts, but they are not for everyone. You might also like "Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap" by Barry K. and Janae B. Weinhold.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

    • ptosis profile image

      ptosis 7 years ago from Arizona

      12-step meetings? OMG that would make it even worse! So I am a controlling nagging agony auntie, I know that, but 12 steps meetings are NOT the answer!

      I suggest reading the book by Lance Dodes, M.D., 'The Heart of Addiction' 2002 ISBN 0-06-095803-0

      A book review is

    • Rachaelle Lynn profile image

      Rachaelle Lynn 7 years ago from Gainesville, Florida

      I am sorry to say that I know what you mean, Eric! Those relationships can be doubly hard to let go of even when it's necessary for the growth/sanity of both parties. Thanks for reading and I wish you the best.

    • ericsomething profile image

      Eric Pulsifer 7 years ago from Charleston, SC

      Good information here, Rachaelle Lynn. Didn't realize until a couple of years ago that yeah, I'm one of those codependent people. What gets really interesting and downright high-larious (or NOT!) is when a codependent develops a relationship with another codependent, as I have done. Talk about a train wreck!

    • Rachaelle Lynn profile image

      Rachaelle Lynn 7 years ago from Gainesville, Florida

      It took me forever too, Cari Jean! Although on my part, I think it was denial. :) I love your definition - it sounds so worthwhile on the face of it, but often we CDs just don't realize the toll trying to make that happen takes on us.

      I love, love, love Melody Beattie. She helped me so much! I highly recommend her work too - in fact, that book is listed on another one of my hubs (How to Exit a Codependent Relationship), and that's why I didn't mention it this give others a chance. :)

      Thank you ever so much for reading and commenting on my article, and best of luck on your continued recovery from codependency! I'm still working hard on it too.....but it's worth it.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      This hub really breaks it down. For the longest time I had heard the word codependent not really understanding what it meant. Then after I did understand I realized I was one of them! One definition I heard was a codependent person turns what is bad into something good. It is a hard issue to overcome and I'm still working on it. May I recommend another book for your list? CoDependent No More by Melody Beattie.